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Canada and the Israel-Palestine Conflict: 'Another arrow in our quiver'

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

As Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) recognized, Great Powers (like the United States) have relative freedom in determining their foreign policies; smaller powers (like Canada), however, have somewhat less autonomy.[1]

Separating independent Canadian foreign policy from US pressure to conform to American interests is not always a straightforward exercise. National conceit leads us to assume our independence and good intentions, the record often suggests otherwise.

Describing pressure to join an American initiative in 2004, former Liberal minister of foreign affairs Bill Graham explained:

Foreign Affairs’ view was there is a limit to how much we can constantly say no to the political masters in Washington. All we had was Afghanistan to wave. On every other file we were offside. Eventually we came onside on Haiti, so we got another arrow in our quiver.[2]

Aiding in the coup that overthrew Haitian democracy in 2004 and helping the murderous suppression of Haiti’s majority political movement was ‘another arrow in our quiver’.

Canadian foreign policy towards Israel and Palestine has become another such ‘arrow in our quiver’, bolstering our relationship with ‘the political masters in Washington.’

Canadian policy towards Israel has always left a great deal to be desired. However, beginning under the Liberal government of Paul Martin and continuing under the current minority Conservative governments of Stephen Harper, Canada has been removing itself from the international consensus it reluctantly joined over the course of the 1990s.

The United States has long had a policy of demanding obedience from less powerful states at the United Nations. Under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan said in a January 1976 cable that breaking up the large bloc of “mostly new nations, which for so long have been arrayed against us” was to become a “basic foreign policy goal” of the US.

Moynihan confirmed US policy makers had adopted a policy of cutting aid to countries that did not follow the US’ lead in UN voting and boasted
Our new stance is having more or less the effect that was hoped for – that governments are beginning to think that anti-American postures at the UN and elsewhere are not without cost and that the cost has to be calculated.[3]

In November 2003, the Jewish weekly Forward reported “The United States is embarking on the most comprehensive campaign in years to reduce the number of anti-Israel resolutions routinely passed” by the UN General Assembly.[4]

(‘Anti-Israel’ is the standard formulation used to describe resolutions like annual calls for the peaceful settlement of the conflict and reaffirmations of Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Never quoted in the media, the resolutions are easy enough to find on one’s own and shed considerable light on the objectivity of our free press.)

By the time preparations were underway for the next year’s round of resolutions, a New York Times’ headline announced the “UN is gradually becoming more hospitable to Israel”.[5] The Canadian government was among those that had responded to the US campaign.

Among other changes, the Martin government withdrew Canadian support for the two-state solution in 2005 (the vote was 156 to 6, with Canada among the 9 abstentions).[6]

Privately, some Liberal MPs expressed concern the government’s actions might “be motivated by an effort to meet the US desire for an ally on the Middle East at the UN.”[7]

In 2006, the Harper government took a step further towards US and Israeli isolation, withdrawing Canadian support for Palestinians’ right to self-determination (the vote was 176 to 5, with Canada among the 5 abstentions).[8]

These two changes have yet to be reported in the Canadian media, which stick to propagandistic denunciations of ‘anti-Israel resolutions’ and applaud noble efforts by Canadian officials to ‘balance’ such obvious bias.

[1] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), p. 264.

[2] Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang, The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2007), pp. 126-27.

[3] Leslie H. Gelb, “US links aid to votes at UN”, New York Times, 9 January 1976, pp. 1ff; Leslie H. Gelb, “Mohnihan says state department fails to back policy against US foes in UN”, New York Times, 28 January 1976, pp. 1ff; “Text of cablegram sent by Mohnihan to Kissinger and all American embassies”, New York Times, 28 January 1976, p. 8.

[4] Marc Perelman, “Washington seeking to reduce number of anti-Israel votes at UN”, Forward (New York), 14 November 2003 .

[5] Warren Hoge, “UN is gradually becoming more hospitable to Israel”, New York Times, 11 October 2005, p. A3.

[6] UN General Assembly, “Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine”, A/RES/60/39 (16 February 2006); UN General Assembly Official Records, 60th session, 60th plenary meeting, A/60/PV.60 (1 December 2005), pp. 4-5.

[7] Campbell Clark, “Pro-Israel shift at UN keeps balance, MPs say”, Globe and Mail, 2 December 2004, p. A6.

[8] UN General Assembly, “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”, A/RES/61/152 (14 February 2007); UN General Assembly Official Records, 61st session, 81st plenary meeting, A/61/PV.81 (19 December 2006), pp. 11-12.

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